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Champions League Group Stage: Ajax-AC Milan Preview: Time to Focus


With the wailing and gnashing of teeth getting louder and louder after every poor Milan performance, the pressure is greater, even if the squad is less than. But Tuesday, Balotelli is eligible (and likely anxious) to play. Montolivo & El Shaarawy are going to Amsterdam, whether or not they will feature, and it is the Champions League: the one place where Milan sometimes resembles Milan this season. So it’s time to shake off the mediocrity and worse, and live up to the colors. Time to focus.

A focused Balotelli is a beautiful thing

In their first group stage match, Ajax were pummeled by Barcelona, 4-0. However in their league, they are fourth place, with a record of 4 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses. Most recently, they lost 4-0 to PSV a week ago and returned to beat Go Ahead Eagles 6-0 this past Saturday. The PSV loss is encouraging for Milan, considering that we also beat PSV. The Go Ahead Eagles trouncing carries with it a double-edged sword: first, they lost our old pal Bojan Krkic to a hamstring injury just four minutes in, and second, a 6-0 win makes anyone confident.

Against Go Ahead Eagles, de Boer lined up Cillessen; Van Rhijn, Molsander, Boilesen, Denswil; former Juventus player Christian Poulsen, Lerin Duarte, siem De Jong; Viktor Fischer, the ill-fated Krkic, and Lesley De Sa. The question is will they play like the team that lost to current second place PSV? Or the team that trounced lower table Go Ahead Eagles?

Bojan didn't want to embarrass his former club, so he got injured on Saturday.

Under normal circumstances, I would really approach this match almost as a formality, with the Ajax stadium and amazing fans as the biggest unknown. However, these are not normal circumstances. With Milan’s 1-0 win over Sampdoria on Saturday both stale and painful to watch, it at least pulled us up the table to 9th in the standings, a position I’m not sure is fair based on our performances. But with so many poor performances lately, and injuries still greatly impacting our starting lineup, which Milan will show up in Amsterdam?

I would expect Balotelli to show up big, and be ultra-disciplined, too. This will likely be his only match he plays for the next 3 weeks, if Prandelli sticks to his policy and does not call him up for the International Break. If Montolivo and/or El Shaarawy make it to the starting lineup, it is hard to say what kind of match fitness they will have. I am torn between wanting them to make a difference in a Champions League game, and not losing them to reinjury, as is the Milan way.

Gumby was more animated.

So Allegri has a lot of thinking to do, not that I expect him to do it. I just honestly have no idea what he’ll do. He rested Abate on Saturday, a very uncharacteristic (and wise) move. I expect to possibly see Urby on the left, but who knows? It is possible that we see a Muntari-free midfield, considering that in Allegri’s post-match comments, he described his perennial favorite as “confused” and pulled him off at the half for tactical purposes. But then again, who knows?

The biggest question lies in who he plays up front. I am considering asking my doctor for some anti-anxiety medication in anticipation of seeing “Matri” on the lineup sheet. Allegri’s delusion that a Matri-Balotelli partnership is ideal for Milan is like Berlusconi claiming his innocence, it’s simply laughable… if you’re not a Milan fan. Robinho has been playing very well, but is it enough for Allegri to overlook his bromance? Because Balotelli needs to play in the middle if he is to dominate, and if he doesn’t start El Shaarawy, Robinho is ideal to play second striker to him right now.

Let's hope the adorable couple have a falling out before gametime.

But now I have spent too long getting my hopes up that Allegri will do anything remotely tactically responsible. I think when he reviews the tapes of our matches, in his eyes there are hearts and cupids surrounding Matri, so it distracts him from seeing that a lump of clay would be more effective. And heaven forbid he should be responsible when it comes to the injured players. It is simply too much to ask. My only solace is that according to him, September is just not lucky for him. But this will be October. So let’s hope somehow the calendar changes his mind, too.

There may be little hope for Allegri, but I hope it is not too much to ask of our boys to focus. If they do, a win is actually possible here. Not only because we are still the better team on paper, despite Allegri’s best attempts to undermine this squad, Milan still live and breathe for the Champions League. We can’t beat newly promoted sides in Serie A somehow, but when we hear that infamous Champions League hymn, it seems to wake up what little quality may still exist in our squad, and we see glimmers of the kind of team that has worn the red and black for years before. Allegri can and probably will totally screw this up. We will have Ajax’s 12th man against us. But I still believe these boys can do this. It’s just time to focus.


This post inspired by the music of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” album


Champions League Group Stage
Ajax vs. AC Milan
Tuesday, October 1 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)
This match is being broadcast LIVE on a Fox affiliate station in the U.S. (check local listings)
Check the comments for stream links ahead of the match